A roguelike, stealthy, platformy heistathon.
So, in the Steampunk version of England found in Size Five Games’ The Swindle on Xbox One (also available on PS4 and PC), Scotland Yard are getting set to switch on a state of the art surveillance system that will all but wipe out crime. As a thief, or selection of thieves as the player will get to control a variety, this would be bad for business. You have 100 days before the device is turned on, so that means 100 days to reach the final level and stop it.
Of course, to reach that final level and have any chance of actually succeeding, the player will have to gather money to buy extra skills and upgrades. This means going on a heist spree. Each day represents a new heist for the player to complete on their long journey to earning money and reaching the final level. Starting with relatively low risk/gain jobs in the less than prosperous areas of this world, the player will have to grab as much money as they can and get out before they are detected. The game does have a tendency to tease the player by letting them see stashes of cash that they simply can’t get to. This taps very easily into the players own greed, making all but the most strong-willed take risks that they know they shouldn’t, just in an attempt to increase their payout. The Swindle is sneaky like that and success will often mean ignoring that little voice in your head saying “of course you can get that cash without getting caught” because, more often than not, you can’t. Still, build up your ill-gotten gains and before long you can afford the clearance to move onto much more prosperous buildings. Mind you, with the possibility of more cash comes much better security.
The other use for all of that lovely money is to buy upgrades and tools that will allow the player to steal more. The upgrades and tools are quite expensive, so the player is encouraged to squeeze every last penny out of their victims. But once they become available things like bombs, the hacking ability and even a simple double jump will make the heists easier as the player progresses.
Or at least it would if The Swindle were not a roguelike game, not too dissimilar to Spelunky and the like. Each level is procedurally generated, resulting in no tow levels being the same. This is great and works really well for the most part. However, occasionally levels will present themselves that simply seem impossible to complete without certain upgrades that the player may not have got. Wasting one of your days in this way is very frustrating.
The other big problem is that the game is very difficult. From the need for some very precise jumping, to guards that seem to play by different rules to the player, The Swindle is a game that will require more than a little patience and skill. And that is just at the beginning, as the game becomes even more difficult as the player progresses. A lot of this difficulty comes from the procedurally generated levels, and as such it is entirely pot luck as to whether the level is set up easy or hard, meaning that the difficulty can spike at any time before dropping down a notch in the next level. Get a few particularly evil levels in a row and you may as well just throw the controller at the TV (please don’t do this).
Okay, the game is difficult. That’s fine because there are plenty of players out there who enjoy a challenge and deliberately gravitate towards these more hardcore games. They may be difficult, but there is a much higher sense of achievement from progression, and doing well in The Swindle really does feel good.
The Steampunk setting may have been done to death recently, but Size Five Games’ recreation of the setting is very nice indeed. With a smoggy overlay, the world looks great, and the buildings that make up the levels all fit the theme brilliantly, even with the random nature of their creation. But it is the thieves and the other denizens of this world that really bring the game to life. From the players current character to the humble robot guards who become much scarier and more capable as the player progresses, they all bring a character that fits so well into the setting and makes the game enjoyable to play. Well, as enjoyable as roguelikes can be…
The Swindle brings stealth, platforming and randomly generated levels together in a delightfully evil little game. Just when the game seems to give you an advantage (”cool – you unlocked double jump”), it makes things more difficult (”here you go – have more guards, that are faster, and tougher. Oh, and have some security cameras too…”). Add to this the random nature of the procedurally generated levels which don’t always take into account just how far the player has progressed and what they have unlocked, and the result is a damned hard game. If you have the patience, and plenty of spare controllers to replace the ones you break against the wall in a fit of frustration, The Swindle is a great game that will reward admirably. But the average gamer will likely end up feeling swindled.